Here comes another aristocratic orphan, the nephew of Baron Simon Fraser Lovatt. Simon’s father and mother were in political disgrace, so they were shipped off to America where the father died. Baron Fraser educated the boy, and purchased him an apprenticeship in the North West Company when he was sixteen. He became a partner in the firm at twenty-two.
Somebody referred to him as ” that square, bushy-haired fellow with a face like a thundercloud” — a disposition that got him shipped off to the western Peace River Country to open up the area in the Rocky Mountain Trench now centered on Prince George. In 1806 he went through the mountains and established Fort McLeod. On his way back he built Rocky Mountain Portage House named to distinguish it from Rocky Fort, now Fort St. John. Nobody knows when Rocky Mountain Portage House was renamed Hudson’s Hope or why. Nobody named Hudson was ever recorded there until 1887. Simon Fraser lived there until spring, when he went over to Fort McLeod again and ascended the Parsnip River to its source. The abundance of wild parsnip on its banks gave the river its name. After passing over a height of land he found Stuart Lake, and built Fort St. James where he stayed over-winter. Maurice Quesnel arrived with supplies from the Peace River, and built Fort George, now Prince George.
On May 28, 1808, under orders to descend it to its mouth, Fraser started his descent of the river that now bears his name. He thought it was the Columbia. On July 2 he reached the Gulf of Georgia only to find that it was at latitude 49°, and therefore too far north to be the Columbia. Although he did not know it, his work gave the future province of British Columbia and the country, Canada, its southern boundary. Only a man with a body and a will like a rock could have managed his incredible journey. He made a fortune in the fur trade, and was eventually knighted by the king. He died at the age of 86. Other biographical notes have not been included here for two reasons. First, few have been turned up by this writer [D. Calverley]. Secondly, W. Stewart Wallace in his book The Pedlars and Other Papers on the Nor’westers finds that there were in fact, five Simon Frasers. At least two of these were partners in the Company. Personal biography seems, in this case, better not attempted!
It is an odd coincidence that David Thompson and Fraser were quite close together at one time. Thompson had reached the Columbia but when it made its big bend north into future Canadian territory he decided that it was not the Columbia. Fraser was on the other great river leading to the Western ocean, but he believed that it was the Columbia. Together they established that Northern North America was to be British, and ultimately Canadian.
For its difficulty, and his unswerving devotion to an order from his employers to navigate the river to the sea, Fraser’s journey ranks above Sir Alexander Mackenzie’s. Mackenzie discovered the Fraser but abandoned it as unsuitable; Fraser conquered it. Mackenzie was the dreamer; Fraser was the dogged, faithful company man. The world needs both kinds.
Perhaps something can be inferred about the personal differences of the two men. Mackenzie chose the wrong river to reach his objective, the Pacific and ended up at the Arctic coast. He did not give that river his name — others did that later. He called it the “River of Disappointment”.
Fraser was also on the wrong river to reach his hoped-for destination, the Columbia mouth. He proved that it was not suitable for fur brigades. In effect his heroic endurance test had failed two ways, neither man found his hoped-for objective, but neither was a “failure”.
David Thompson, the great surveyor, thought highly enough of Fraser’s great accomplishment to mark the stream on his map, “Fraser’s River”, as a memorial. One of the old-time families of Fort St. John claims to be descended from Simon Fraser.